I just wanted to take a moment to thank all those who have been following A New Beginning, whether you comment or not. I know I tease those who comment sometimes (like joking with those who “complained” about there being cliffhangers) but I hope it’s never misunderstood how much I appreciate your likes, comments and even views. Writing is an escape for me. Much like photography and blogging, it has been a lifeline for me during my most depressed or stressful times in life. The fact that others are enjoying what I’m writing means more to me than many of you will ever know. The fact that others tell me they actually care about what I’m writing is an added bonus.
You can find more about the first book about Blanche at the link at the top of the page, along with an excerpt. It is available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
If you have read it there and liked it, I’d love if you leave me a review or share it with others on your blog or social media. For those who read the story when it was on the blog, I did add to it, change a few things and tighten a few others. I even changed the first paragraph to allow for an immediate jump into the action.
The sound of the phone ringing downstairs woke me from a sound sleep. I stared at the clock, groggy and disoriented.
2 p.m. I’d slept through half the day.
“Blanche! Are you awake honey?” Mama called from the bottom of the stairs.
“Am I downstairs?” I mumbled to myself. “Then I’m not awake.”
“Yes!” I called, trying to sound cheerful. “Just now.”
“Thomas from the paper is on the phone.”
I stumbled down the stairs, completely uninterested in talking to anyone, let alone Thomas Fairchild, after the day and night I’d had the day before.
“Hey, Robbins. I hear you had an exciting day yesterday.”
“Yes. How did you hear?”
“I’m a journalist. I know all.” Thomas laughed. “Seriously, I overheard Emmy’s mom at the post office this morning. I wanted to know if you’d let me interview you for a story I’m working on it. It’s going to tie in with our coverage of Sam being shot.”
Interview me? Why me?
“Uh…. I don’t think so. I’m not really….”
“You’re the happy part of the story, Blanche,” Thomas interrupted. “The inspirational, heart-wrenching part. The part that breaks up the depressing news in the paper. The part that sells papers, as Stanley would say.”
“Listen, Thomas, I just woke up, I was up all night and I haven’t even checked in to see how Sam or Emmy are yet . . .”
“I called the hospital this morning,” Thomas said. “Emmy and the baby are great and Sam is in stable condition after the surgery. So how about you meet me at the Twilight Rose Café down the street from the hospital and then go check on them? We’ll discuss the story and see if you want to be a part of it or not.”
I sighed and rubbed my eyes. Apparently, nothing I said was going to deter Thomas from pursuing an interview with me. Stanley hadn’t changed from calling him his “cub reporter” to his “bulldog reporter” for nothing.
“I’ll meet you at 3:30 at the café,” I said with a yawn.
When I reached the café, Thomas was sitting at a table in the back corner of the café, wearing a polo shirt and a pair of khaki pants, scribbling away in a notebook and sipping coffee from a paper cup. He looked like a stereotypical newspaper reporter: handsome, well-dressed and preoccupied with the story he was after. His blond hair was cut slightly shorter than the first time I had met him but still left enough bangs so he still had to flip his head back to move them out of his eyes.
“Hey, there, hero,” he said as I approached his table, motioning to the chair across from him. “You look pretty good for someone who was up all night.”
I yawned as I sat down and looked at him through bleary eyes. “I’m barely functioning,” I said.
“So, listen, I know you don’t want to let me interview you, but people love these heartfelt stories. It’s a nice break from the hard, sad news and politics. And besides, you owe me. I got you that job writing feature stories for us.”
I laughed. “I haven’t even decided if I’m going to take that job.”
Thomas waved to the woman behind the counter. “Hey, Annie, a cup of coffee for my friend here and a couple of raspberry scones.”
“I don’t really drink coffee.”
“Yeah, but you need some,” Thomas said. “And you’re going to take that job. The world – or at least our little area of it – needs Blanche Robbins writing stories for them. They may not know it yet, but they do.”
The waitress placed two scones and a mug of coffee in front of me. She wore her dark hair in a tight ponytail and her full lips were highlighted with bright red lipstick. A blue sweater and short black skirt fit nicely on her slender form.
“Thanks, Annie,” Thomas said with a wink.
I glanced at the waitress and suddenly realized I knew her. It was Annie Tanner, a mother of three who had gotten pregnant in high school and married Billy Tanner, much to the disapproval of the ladies in my sewing circle.
I watched Thomas’ eyes follow Annie as she walked away. He grinned at me. “She’s nice to look at at the end of a workday. Or the beginning. Or even in the middle.”
I rolled my eyes. “She’s the mother of three and married you know.”
Thomas shrugged and poured creamer in his coffee as he smirked at me. “Doesn’t mean I can’t admire what I can not have.”
He broke a piece of his scone off. “You know I enjoy watching you when you leave too.”
I felt my face grow warm and looked at the top of the table. “Thomas, I am much too tired for your teasing today.”
“I’m not teasing,” Thomas said. “And, hey, maybe we can count this as that date I asked you out on a couple years ago.”
“Uh, no we can’t.”
Thomas sighed. “You’re no fun, Blanche. Fine, no date. But at least make this trip worth my while and agree to let me interview you and tell the community a heart-lifting story that could have been a tragedy.”
I relented to the interview, anything that would let me return home to my family and my bed quicker.
“Just don’t make me sound like some hero, Thomas. I just did what I had to do,” I said as he pulled out his notepad and pen.
Thomas grinned. “I’m pretty sure that’s what all heroes say. ‘I just did what I had to do.’
I rolled my eyes and tossed a napkin at him playfully.
When the interview was done, I asked Thomas if the paper had been told anything about the man who shot Sam.
“Yeah, some guy in a junkyard up in the corner of the county close to the New York state border. Sam was trying to bring him in for burglary. Coward shot Sam from behind and took off. The cops are looking for him today. I’ll be heading up to the barracks later today to see what else I can find out. Derrick is working on the story too.”
He leaned back and draped his arm over the back of the chair. “So, what’s your story, Blanche? Is reporting something you’ve always wanted to do?”
I sipped the coffee and winced. I hated coffee. Why did I keep letting men tell me I needed it?
“No. I don’t really want to be a reporter. I just like to write.”
“Well, you’ll have to do a little researching and reporting for any writing you do, so this job will be good training for that.” Thomas grinned again. His grin was getting on my nerves and I wasn’t sure if it was my lack of sleep or just him.
I looked at the coffee, stirring in creamer and sugar, wishing I was at home and asleep in bed.
“My main job is being a mom, Thomas. Not writing. You do know I’m a mom right?”
Thomas was still grinning as he sipped his coffee. “I’ve read your columns, Blanche. I know you’re a mother.
“So, tell me, Thomas, how did you even get into reporting? Is it something you always wanted to do?”
Thomas broke off another piece of the scone, tipped his head back and dropped it in his mouth. “Yeah. I mean, I haven’t always wanted to do it. When I was five I wanted to be a firefighter, but I guess you could say it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I always imagined myself somewhere with a lot higher circulation, though. Maybe national. I started in Philadelphia, interned at the city paper there, but didn’t get offered a job. Uncle Stanley offered me a job here for some experience, so here I am.”
“Stanley’s your uncle?”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t like to tell a lot of people, so it doesn’t look like he’s playing favorites,” Thomas said.
I picked up the scone, realizing how hungry I actually was.
“So, your uncle,” I said, realizing this might be my chance to learn a little more about the man who wanted to date Marion. “Was he ever married before?”
Thomas leaned forward slightly, letting out a breath leaning his elbows on the table. For once his gestures lacked the cocky swagger. His expression was hard to read as he looked up at me.
“Yeah,” he said softly, tapping the eraser end of the pencil on the tabletop, his expression somewhat distant. “He was. To my Aunt Margaret. She was my dad’s sister.” He cleared his throat. “She died when I was about 12. Cancer. I was very close to her. It was hard on the whole family, of course, but . . . yeah..well, anyhow, Stanley was shattered. A year or so after she passed he was looking for a way out of town, saw this job advertised in the papers back home and grabbed the chance to try to run away from the memories.”
He swallowed hard and coughed softly.
It was the first time since I’d met Thomas that I’d seen him look serious about anything.
“Anyhow,” he said, twirling the pencil on the table. “It’s been nice knowing someone in the business who can help me learn the ropes and it’s been nice to be around Uncle Stanley again too.”
He shrugged. “Plus, I’ve grown to like this tiny county and the people in it.”
He smiled and winked, the cocky attitude I was familiar with returning for a supporting role to his more serious tone. “Including you. Even if you won’t go out with me.”
I leaned back, studying Thomas for a moment as he ate the rest of the scone and sipped his coffee. I wondered if I had misjudged him the last couple of years I’d known him. Maybe he wasn’t the one-dimensional, arrogant, flirting playboy I’d thought he was.
“Hey,” he said, looking over my shoulder. “Speak of the devil. Someone else must have had the same idea about meeting here today.”
I turned to see Stanley and Marion sitting down at a table near the entrance. Marion looked nervous, her hair pulled back and pinned up on top of her head. The blue dress she wore fit modestly on her slender form and matched nicely with the stylish black heels. I smiled as I saw she’d taken my advice on the outfit and the hairstyle.
“Good for Uncle Stanley,” Thomas said, softly chuckling. “It’s about time he got back on the dating scene.”
I turned back around and took another bite of my scone.
“Do you know the woman?” he asked. “I’ve seen her around but not sure I’ve ever met her.”
“She’s my former mother-in-law.”
“Yep. My ex’s long-suffering mother and I’m very happy to see her out enjoying life again. Her husband died a few years ago. My ex doesn’t have any contact with her and her other son rarely stops in to see her even though he lives a couple counties away.”
I decided not to mention my initial misgivings about her going on a date with Stanley.
“I hope they find some joy together,” Thomas said, watching them. “Even if it’s just in getting back out into the world again.”
I looked over Thomas’ shoulder. “Is that a back door? Maybe we can sneak out before they see us. I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said following my gaze. “I think it is and that’s a good idea. Come on, I’ll pay and we’ll sneak out. Let the old folks have a little privacy.”
I squinted against the sunlight outside, my eyes heavy, from never fully waking up. I wasn’t as familiar with the town of Sawyer as I was with Dalton and I looked down the street at picturesque shops and a row of old fashion gas street lamps lining Main Street, feeling as if I had stepped back in time in some ways.
“Want to take a walk before you head over to check on Emmy and Sam?” Thomas asked. “There’s a spot by the river I think you’d like.”
We buttoned our coats, pulled on our hats and started to walk.
The walkway along the river paralleled Main Street and took us down under the large bridge that crossed the Susquehanna River and brought visitors to Sawyer from the main highway to the main part of town. Flowers, trees, and well-kept hedges had been planted along the walkway and even with the flowers not in bloom the landscaping was eye-catching.
“I don’t think I’ve ever walked this way,” I said. “I didn’t even know this view was here.”
Thomas winked, sipping the coffee he’d carried with him from the shop. “That’s why I’m here – to help you explore the beauty that is around you.” He gestured his arms out over the view of the river. “Look upon the beauty that is our lovely county, nestled here in the rolling green hills of Pennsylvania or as some call those hills – ‘the Endless Mountains’.”
“I know what these mountains are called, Thomas,” I said. “I’ve lived here all my life you know.”
“Ah, yes,” he said, sitting on a wooden bench and leaning back. “Are you sure that’s something you want to announce to the world? That you’ve always lived in one place and never explored life outside your tiny bubble?”
He patted the bench next to him and I sat on the end of the bench and watched a hawk fly over the water toward the opposite shore.
“I haven’t always lived here,” I said. “I was gone for a few years at least.”
“I lived in New York state for a while with my ex.”
“I heard before that you had an ex,” Thomas said. “So, tell me about this ex. What kind of man left you to raise your little boy by yourself? I know I seem like a huge flirt who shuns responsibility but even I know that’s a garbage move.”
I shook my head, knowing I didn’t want to talk about Hank, that I was tired of talking and thinking about Hank.
“We were just too young.”
I could feel Thomas’ eyes on me. “He really hurt you, didn’t he?”
I leaned back on the bench and nodded. “Yeah. In more ways than one.”
Thomas sighed and sipped from the coffee cup.
“I moved up here after I caught my girlfriend cheating on me,” he said bluntly.
He laughed softly, shaking his head. “Man, she did a number on me. We shared everything, dated since 10th grade. She was sweet, beautiful, and smart. I never thought . . . well, anyhow. We were young too. Maybe I was just too cocky, ignored her too much during college. I don’t know. I never expected her to run off with my best friend but when she did it woke me up pretty good.”
He leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “Maybe you’ve figured out by now my cocky attitude is a cover up in some ways.”
I smirked. “What, like underneath it all you’re a sweet, hurt little boy?”
I immediately regretted the comment, knowing the lack of sleep was only heightening my tendency to be snarky.
Thomas winced. “Ouch. You’re savage today, aren’t you?”
“Sorry. I – you just joke a lot and I was just – sorry.”
Thomas grinned and blew a kiss at me. “No worries. I like a savage woman.”
“Thomas. . .”
He tipped his head back and laughed, his nose crinkling.
“I love flirting with you. You resist it so strongly. It’s fun to watch you squirm. Seriously, though, most of this really is a cover. I’m not as smarmy as I seem and I don’t really pursue women the way I pretend. I’m good with being single right now. Maybe someday – but for now? I’m focusing on my career, on writing a book, and on getting to know nice people in this county like you.”
I watched him warily but didn’t see the normal swagger in his body language, the playful grin normally there. His expression was serious, his mannerisms relaxed and friendly.
“Don’t take this the wrong way but do you find it hard to let people in?” Thomas asked. He leaned back against the bench again, stretching his arm across the back of it.
“Because honestly,” he said, before I could answer the question. “I do. I don’t like the idea of opening myself up, only to be hurt. I’d have to imagine that’s even harder for you and what you’ve probably been through.”
I watched the hawk land on the spindly branch of a tree and wondered how vulnerable I truly wanted to be with a man I’d only ever known to be flippant and flirty before today. I cleared my throat.
“Yes,” I said finally. “It is hard. And it’s scary but it’s even harder for me because I have Jackson to protect.”
“Ah, yeah,” Thomas said with a quick nod. “That would be a challenge. Keeping a wall around yourself is one thing but you and your child? That’s an entirely different ball game. Like, you can keep yourself all locked up inside, but the danger of causing your son to be afraid to love too? I wouldn’t want that responsibility at all.”
I scowled at Thomas. “Well, thanks. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.”
Thomas laughed softly, cleared his throat and stood. “So, anyhooo…maybe we should head back up to our cars and you should go see Emmy and Sam before I stick my foot in my mouth again.”
Thomas opened the door to Daddy’s Olds for me when we reached the street. “Think about that job, okay, Blanche?” he said. “I think you’d be good at it. Truly.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said, sliding behind the steering wheel.
He closed the door and peered through the window. “Good. And thank you for the walk.” My muscles tensed as he leaned through the window and kissed my cheek.
He leaned back slightly and looked me in the eye. “Don’t be afraid to live again, Blanche. Don’t let that jerk take that away from you. From what I’ve heard and what you said today, he doesn’t deserve to have that power over you.”
Driving down the street toward the hospital, I knew Thomas was right. Hank Hakes was still living in my head, still controlling me from the inside. I had to find a way to take that control back, live life without the fear of being hurt the same way I’d been hurt by Hank.